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Platforms Shouldn’t Be Held Liable for Protecting User Privacy & Security, NetChoice & Amici Tell CA Court

LOS ANGELES—Yesterday, NetChoice, with our co-amici Chamber of Progress and Team Awareness Combating Overdose, filed an amicus brief in Neville v. Snap, asking the California Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District to review and reverse an erroneous trial court opinion that would undermine Section 230’s protections for free discourse online.

The plaintiffs are parents of Snapchat users who purchased drugs from other users and tragically suffered overdoses. They sued Snap, arguing, among other things, that by publishing user-generated content designed to “disappear” within 24 hours, Snap should be held liable for the overdoses.

Snap moved to dismiss the plaintiffs’ claims under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which bars claims against online platforms for user-generated content.

  • This is a good thing: without Section 230’s liability shield, online platforms would be heavily disincentivized from hosting a wide variety of the content from users that makes the internet a vibrant medium for free discourse. 
  • This includes posts that criticize powerful people, content which would otherwise expose platforms to defamation liability, and, as our co-amici Team Awareness Combating Overdose emphasize, posts about harm reduction and addiction recovery.

The trial court denied Snap’s motion to dismiss, holding that the crux of the plaintiffs’ claims was about Snap’s product design rather than the user-generated drug content that actually led to the sale. This opinion was incorrect as a matter of policy and law, and it would effectively gut Section 230’s critical protections if left in effect.

Our amicus letter asks the Court of Appeals to reverse the trial court’s decision for three reasons:

  1. Without intervention by this Court, the trial court’s decision would make Section 230 nearly obsolete, inviting the same type of litigation that Congress meant to prevent;
  2. Plaintiffs cannot get around Section 230’s protections by “creative pleading”; and
  3. Left unaddressed, the trial court’s decision would compel services to censor content and forgo or limit essential features, putting users’ safety and privacy at risk.

“To prevent platforms from being held liable for protecting users’ privacy and security, we ask the Court to review and reverse,” said Nicole Saad Bembridge, Associate Director of the NetChoice Litigation Center. “End-to-end encryption is critical to protect the integrity and security of digital communication. But if plaintiffs can get around Section 230’s protections by targeting ‘product design,’ online services could soon be punished for protecting users’ private messages from unauthorized access.”

You can read our brief with Chamber of Progress and Team Awareness Combating Overdose HERE

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